Climate in the Vancouver School Curriculum

This article is part of our “blog series” — written by youth, for youth, by members of our very own VSBSC executive team. We hope you enjoy reading these as much as we did writing them and stay tuned for future posts!

By Nahira Gerster-Sim

Climate change and environmental activism is a hot topic in this day and age. As technology evolves and international relations deepen, the society is becoming more aware of the harmful impact humans have on the planet. Eco-friendly diets, reusable straws and bags, and climate-related seminars are increasingly popular. Larger solutions such as BC’s climate action plan, and the United Nations Paris Agreement have put the climate crisis as a global priority.

Of course, the government continues to make many empty and unfulfilled promises, and as a result of COVID-19, tackling environmental policies have been put on the backburner. The pandemic has destabilized both the society and economy, leaving citizens with a rapidly deteriorating planet, limited jobs, and unequal access to food and water. However, despite the array of unwanted changes, the province has chosen to persevere, and is working hard to achieve a “new normal”. 

A little over two months ago, students went back to school. Receiving an education was prioritized over eradicating the virus, so class structure and composition was adapted to accommodate social distancing. The government has decided that ultimately, we must plan for a future beyond the next 12 months, and children being in school is crucial to BC’s economic survival. There is an average of 5 million Canadian youth enrolled in K-12 school each year. 92% of adults have at least a high school graduation diploma, and there is a grand total of 289 public and private secondary schools in BC.

Education is considered a fundamental need, a tool to survival and prosperity. Yet countless people do not have the opportunity nor can afford to attend school. It’s difficult for those of us privileged with an education to envision life would be without homework, quizzes and presentations. We can imagine though, that the absence of school would leave us untethered and uncertain of our future. School is an avenue to learn about the world, delve into interesting subjects, and explore potential career paths.

Unfortunately, the BC curriculum places very little emphasis on studying climate change. In Grade 10, the science course covers certain environmental issues such as renewable energy, overconsumption, and food and water security. Other topics include climate policy works, government interaction with stakeholders, and various national and international climate strategies.

Starting in Grade 11, high school students can choose from a wider variety of science and social studies courses. After researching the BC curriculum guide, I was only able to identify two grade 11 and 12 classes that clearly mentioned “climate” in the teaching guide. Social justice 12 addresses Intersectional Environmentalism (discrimination and equality within climate change), and Science of citizens 11 and 12 discusses societal and geographical effects of climate change, as well as environmental solutions on both a domestic and international scale.

Of the 40 courses students are required to take for graduation, climate is covered in just three classes. There was little or no mention of environmental studies in either the Grade 8 or 9 curriculum. Furthermore, to my knowledge, Science for Citizens 11/12 is not normally offered in Vancouver secondary schools. For an issue that is so quickly and disastrously affecting the ecosystem, this coverage is not sufficient. Youth are currently given minimal say in our education, but it is obvious that educating youth about climate change is beneficial for the entire population. Through events like VSBSC, we can inspire one another to learn more about sustainability and take matters into our own hands. 

During this year of online workshops, mentor sessions, and webinars, I encourage each and every one of you to raise your voice, and come up with solutions to better the climate education.